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'Heartless Bastards' Defy Indie Rock Rules

For young rock bands second albums can be tough. They often aim to solidify the group's fan base without straining too far artistically. The group the Heartless Bastards has gone for something different. The band is from Cincinnati and it started out playing gritty blues influenced rock. The group's second album, called All This Time, tries out a new sound.

Tom Moon has a review.

TOM MOON reporting:

This is what the Heartless Bastards sounded like last year.

(Soundbite of Heartless Bastards)

Ms. ERIKA WENNERSTROM: (Singing) When the (unintelligible) was in denial I did what I had to do. We changed our form of contact to get through.

MOON: Back then the Heartless Bastards were easy to peg. Another low-fi blues rock band with a singer who sounded a bit like Janis Joplin and a rhythm section inspired by the White Stripes. After tours of taverns and bar rooms, vocalist Erika Wennerstrom and her crew went home to write more songs and this is what came out.

(Soundbite of Heartless Bastards)

Ms. WENNERSTROM: (Singing) I just want to go.

MOON: It seems the Heartless Bastards had what you might call an artistic breakthrough.

Ms. WENNERSTROM: (Singing) In the (unintelligible) traveling far and wide to the great big open. Things are coming at you (unintelligible). I've got wind in my mind and it's getting it on. I've got wind in my mind and it's gotten on.

MOON: After years of emulating the titans of blues rock, the band developed a more personal approach. Now they explore the blues from a distance. Check out this song, which borrows the melody of early rock classics by Bo Diddley and the Dixie Cups. When these guys play it, it becomes a hazy, spacey dream.

(Soundbite of Heartless Bastards)

Ms. WENNERSTROM: (Singing) (Unintelligible) And if for just one day there's nothing else (unintelligible).

MOON: This open, expansive style gives Wennerstrom room to stretch as a lyricist. Her songs tell of long and sometimes desperate searches for love or a little clarity of thought or for instant solutions to life's problems.

(Soundbite of Heartless Bastards)

Ms. WENNERSTROM: (Singing) This is where I long to be. (Unintelligible) so differently. (Unintelligible) This is where I long to be.

MOON: In conversation, Erika Wennerstrom comes across as fairly reserved, soft-spoken, but when she sings she transforms into a totally commanding presence, a voice with the power to move mountains. On this new record, the sound of the Heartless Bastards has caught up to her unique talent and that's all it took for a workman like band to become a great one.

BLOCK: The new CD from the Heartless Bastards is called All This Time. Our reviewer is Tom Moon. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tom Moon has been writing about pop, rock, jazz, blues, hip-hop and the music of the world since 1983.